The bomb is a key generic convention of the Spy genre and is used to increase the tension of a climax. This is because as soon as the bomb begins to tick, a pledge is made to the audience that something big is going to happen. Whilst in more grounded and emotional movies the conflict can be resolved in an undramatic way, the insertion of a bomb in a spy movie means that there is no way for the director to play it safe; something must happen. In modern cinema, audiences are no longer entertained by the simplistic outcome of the hero rushing in at the very last second and neutralising the bomb, so auteurs are finding new twists. For instance, bombs are used extensively in Christopher Nolan’s, ‘The Dark Knight,’ and they are used in a way which breaks the Hollywood laws; the hero does not always manage to deactivate the bomb and save the ‘princess’ in time. This raises the stakes and the tension to even higher levels for the climax of the film, the ferry scene. This draws on Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic analysis of the suspense and engagement created when the audience is informed of a bomb being planted,’The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: “You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!” In fact, almost every Nolan film features a bomb, or at least a metaphorical one, as he truly understands the power of a ticking clock.
Another generic convention, which is especially apparent in the James Bond franchise, is the seduction of females by the main character, often to exploit them to receive information. Whilst these scenes do make for some iconic one-liners, modern audiences now rightfully demand more sophisticated roles for women. Christopher Nolan’s most recent film, ‘TENET,’ plays on all of the Spy genre stereotypes wonderfully, and uses the audience’s expectations of them as a manipulative tool. For example, after seducing a girl, James Bond will often later fall for them. This same series of events is featured in, ‘TENET,’ between the protagonist and the character of Kat, however, rather than a shallow sexual relationship forming, a much more complex conncetion of respect, and even friendship is developed, friendship being a key theme of the movie. Furthermore, when the protagonist ‘reverse bungee jumps’ into the house of a wealthy arms dealer, he, and with him the audience, instantly assume that the man the protagonist encounters is the arms dealer, when in fact the real arms dealer is the character of Priya, who we mistook to be a simple housewife. This establishes the idea that we should not underestimate Priya, and that despite her gentle motherly appearance and tone she is far from gentle. Of course, the audience and the protagonist quickly forget this warning, until it’s far too late because perhaps we still can’t quite fathom the idea of a woman being an intelligent and ‘evil’ protagonist.
I find it really intriguing how the main protagonist in a Spy movie acts almost as a character in a videogame which the audience can use to navigate the world and draw out facts from the characters the protagonist meets. Because the protagonist is almost an embodiment of us we definitely feel more tension and threat when he faces near-death encounters. This is very similar to how the viewer is put in the position of the detective in, ‘Whodunit’ films.
This storyboard to the right portrays the previously mentioned convention of the protagonist falling for a female, who is then taken hostage by the main antagonist. The protagonist then faces a choice, save the girl or complete the mission, and at this point, we know that the morally sound protagonist will not hesitate to sacrifice the mission and save the girl, at least in most cases…watch the Dark Knight…
Additionally, the character of the purely evil antagonist has developed incredibly in recent years. Rather than the villain’s only characteristics being that they are greedy, evil, and own a huge all-powerful army and fortress which is impossible to penetrate until the underdog protagonist manages to penetrate it seemingly easily, auteurs are developing more complex antagonists. For instance, an antagonist that has so little power, at least in the conventional use of the word, that the protagonist now has the upper hand, and the whole tables are turned, or a villain who has no clear plan, and is freakishly unpredictable, bewildering us and the protagonist. Whilst the antagonist always believes that they are doing the right thing, it is often clear that they are deluded, and wrong. But once again in, TENET,’ this is altered; the antagonist Sator has a genuinely valid argument which is impossible to prove false. Like in, ‘The Dark Knight,’ which features a string of classic philosophical thought experiments, but now in the real world and with true consequences, ‘TENET’ also uses unsolvable philosophical questions to perplex the audience, who can’t make a decision for their life, and therefore wait intently for the main protagonist to do the right thing, and in turn untangle the knot of complex philosophical arguments in their heads. And whilst the answers to these philosophical questions are less obvious in ‘TENET’, with closer inspection, perhaps a third or fourth watch, they are discoverable.